Saturday, October 25, 2008

South Carolina 2008 [The S.C. 2007 trip is below.]

[The link in the title will take you Jean Potter's photographs of our recent trip.]

This last weekend, October 11-13, 13 of us from the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of TOS braved two days of hard rain and high winds and celebrated one glorious Monday to record 92 species around Georgetown, S.C. The Georgetown/ Huntington Beach/ Francis Marion National Forest are (all north of Charleston) has been one of the favorite destinations for east Tennessee birders for years. We can get on I-26 in Johnson City and never change routes all the way to Charleston. South Carolina is to be complimented for promoting naturalist sites and has a variety of terrain different, but not necessarily better, than Tennessee’s.

We visited the Francis Beidler Forest, in the Four Holes Swamp area, late Saturday afternoon. This was a mile-long boardwalk without much to show for our efforts, unless you count a great horned owl. The first and only sighting recorded there. This was the typical black water swamp with tupelo and cypress. That evening we returned (after having BBQ at Dukes--a local eatery in Ridgeville, as small a town as you’d imagine in rural South Carolina) for a night hike in the rain conducted by the staff. The leader attempted to attract barred owl and spotlight the alligators but no luck on either call. We were invited to make our way back to the center via the boardwalk without his help or without flashlights. It was quite an experience in a very dark and forboding place. But, fun, in retrospect. Next time we’ll have clear skies for the full moon effect.

On Sunday, we began at the Pitt St. Bridge in Mt. Pleasant although there is no mount, then the beach at the Isle of Palms Causeway, Garris Landing at Cape Romain which is more tidewater, the Hampton Plantation Historical Site, and finished at Island Road where we found the eagles--finally. The weather went from really windy and spitting rain to ugly rainy. At each stop we accumulated more sightings from a variety of habitats.

As usual, wet spirits were momentarily revived by food. We ate at the Seewee Restaurant below McClellanville. The Seewee was an old store with bench seats, cans of food on the wall, ice cream and Nehi, She-crab soup, fried eggplant, and the bathrooms opening onto the parking lot. It was different.

On Monday, when the weather cleared, we started in Georgetown, at the hotel, where off the balcony is 10 square miles of marsh and you have an elevated covered viewing stand--with coffee and bathrooms. We found breakfast at a diner that may have been opened since the weekend and we (13 of us) undoubtedly created a record sales for them. It was good eatin’, too. Our group this year and last year proved an Army marches on its tummy.

Then to the Santee Coastal Reserve, which is a pine forest, where we sighted the red-cockaded woodpecker and the brown-headed nuthatch, another eagle, and the complete set of marshland waders all on one log. Quite a sight. We finished up late Monday afternoon at dusk at Super Sod Farm near Orangeburg without too much to show for it except an interesting ride through acres of sod farm.

The species of the trip, in my humble opinion, was the red-cockaded woodpecker. I had one in the books, a gazillion years ago on one of the coastal tours organized by Fred Alsop and Diane Nelson. That one was to the Hobcaw Barony not far from where we found these. We saw several this time and evidence of many more. A second high mark might be the oystercatcher but definitely in there was the bald eagle at Santee reserve. It was within easy eyesight, soaring in bright blue sky.

Out of the 92 species observed by the group, this list is what we saw that we weren’t likely to find in East Tennessee: anhinga, great egret, snowy egret, little blue egret, tricolored egret, white ibis, wood stork, osprey, eagle, Northern harrier, red-shouldered hawk, Merlin, clapper rail, king rail, Virginia rail, sora, semipalmated plover, American oystercatcher, willet, ruddy turnstone, sanderling, Western sandpiper, dunlin, Wilson’s snipe, laughing gull, royal tern, Forster’s tern, least tern, black skimmer, red-cockaded woodpecker, shrike, fish crow, brown-headed nuthatch, marsh wren, Cape May warbler, black-throated blue warlbler, pine warbler, palm warbler, black-and-white warbler, American redstart, common yellowthroat, and boat-tailed grackle.

We missed ducks, mostly.

I was also thrilled at seeing the eagle soar in the blue sky right over our heads. You could almost touch him. I had never heard rails before. Several new birds this year, or for a long time, were the oystercatcher, brown-headed nuthatch, and the redstart.

For the non-bird kinds of things: anole, yellow-bellied slider, a very fast snapping turtle, millipede, toads, golden silk spider, long-jawed spider, Cardinal flower, and land crabs. And probably more stuff than I could ever list except this trip is not a list lengthening trip, it’s an exploration. We are perhaps better described as natural history buffs more so than bird watchers.

The terrain was mostly loblolly and/or long-leaf pine, palmetto, beach/ tidewater, or black water swamp. The loblolly and long-leaf are easier to tell after seeing them next to each other. For example, red-cockaded territory, I thought, was in lobloblly pine country. For some of us, obviously, knowing the difference between loblolly and long-leaf is a challenge and I am no longer sure of where I was (except to say I am sure I was in South Carolina!). We saw more than enough swamp (flooded forest. See the write up from the 2007 trip below.) We could fill an entire list with butterfly sightings. All the land we visited was low-country--literally. At Francis Beidler we were maybe 30-35 above sea level. With all the rain in the last few days, the ground was saturated, water was standing in the ditches, and the swamps were full. It was this that makes the area so interesting. Along the shore and tidewaters the tide was always turning, it seemed.

The party included Brookie and Jean Potter, Joe McGuiness, Kim Stroud, Jim and Darla Anderson, Lisa Tyler, Don Holt and Diane Draper, Mary Anna Wheat, and Eric and Cathy Noblitt. The trip was organized by Joe who, with Kim, organized last year’s great expedition to Marion Lake. However, the Potters and the Andersons had been to some of the spots on earlier trips and were well acquainted with the territory.

It was nice to return to coastal South Carolina without the drought effect.


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